Those loyal to Stiffel Center rally to preserve it

Everybody in the neighborhood used to call the Stiffel Center by its address: “Marshall and Porter.” For 83 years, the Jewish community center has stood at that intersection through dramatic changes.

Now some volunteers and seniors are fighting to keep it open.

The Stiffel used to serve hundreds of Jewish seniors, but their numbers have dwindled as the neighborhood has become predominately South Asian. Just a block away, what was formerly a synagogue is now a Cambodian community center, offering Buddhist services.

Many Cambodian and Vietnamese seniors use the services at Stiffel.

“You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Vietnamese people at a Seder table,” said Murray Dubin, who grew up with the Stiffel and whose parents used it when they grew older.

Since 2009, the Stiffel has been operated by the Klein Jewish Community Center, based in Northeast Philadelphia, with assistance from the Philadelphia Council on Aging and the Jewish Federation. Klein has been absorbing the center’s annual $200,000 deficit.

“The philanthropic money is not there anymore,” said Andre Krug, the CEO of Klein JCC. “The government money is scarce. And, unfortunately, the demand for services is up. Basically, we have to constantly try to make it work. In this case, it’s getting very difficult.”

The Klein board decided to close the center in April. Now it is helping seniors find other centers to use.

But Barbara McKnight says she does not come to Stiffel because of its location. There are two senior centers more convenient to her home on Spring Garden Street. She travels about four miles to Stiffel, because of the community.

“The getting along–everybody cares about everybody. It’s like a family,” said McKnight. “Which is a beautiful experience. Where else would you go but to your family?”

Residents and volunteers have launched a last-minute effort to raise $200,000 by June 30. That would allow Klein to keep the center open in the short term while they figure out how to make it sustainable.

Dubin said if his parents were still alive and using the Stiffel, he would be furious. Now, he’s just saddened and disappointed with the people who decided to close the center.

“They’re making choices about how to spend money,” said Dubin. “One of those choices is not to spend it here.”

If the money is not raised by the end of the month, the Stiffel will close on July 31.

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